When my Old English Sheep Dog, Bear, aged four, jumps up at me, or anyone else, it’s a force to be reckoned with, but any dog with a habit of jumping up can be a problem.
Jumping up is a very natural behavior for most dogs. It’s their way of showing their excitement during greetings, and it helps them to gain information about humans by sniffing or licking. It may not seem an issue when your dog is a small puppy, but it can become problematic as they grow larger, particularly when they’re covered in mud! If a dog is particularly friendly and social with people and finds them extremely exciting, they may jump up at their owners or people they encounter on walks, and then when we interact with them, it can be as rewarding to the pooch as the best dog treats.
Bear gets excited when I enter the room and instantly launches himself at me. He’s big, and I often end up with bruises, but it’s a behavior that’s been allowed since he was a puppy because it was so cute.
Why is jumping a problem?
While Bear jumping up at me is annoying, my real worry is that he’ll jump up at other people while on walks and hurt someone. Because he’s so big there would be little I could do to stop him if he decided to jump up at a child or someone elderly. It also means anyone visiting our house has to be aware of Bear’s jumping up and be ok with it, or we have to keep him away from people, which only increases his frustration. Natalie Light, a clinical animal behaviorist, explains why tackling a dog’s frustration can be the key. “While you can work on the jumping up as an individual task, longer term it will also be useful to teach your dog how to deal with frustration and impulsivity when they see something, or someone, they want to get closer to but they may not be able to because a door/fence/lead is stopping them.” This makes a lot of sense regarding my dog, who’s quite boisterous. Here’s how I handled his jumping up and his frustration.
Natalie Light is the Clinical Animal Behaviourist for Joii Pet Care and a Director for the Professional Association of Canine Trainers (PACT). She is an Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) accredited Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, an Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and Animal Training Instructor and a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counselors and Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians. Natalie has been working professionally in the companion animal sector since 2006 and graduated from Southampton University with a Zoology BSc and Newcastle University in Applied Animal Behavior & Welfare PGDip. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a lecturer on the Animal Welfare and Society BA Hons at University of Winchester. Natalie’s aim as a behaviorist and trainer is to provide her clients with the understanding, knowledge and practical skills to confidently identify, manage and reinforce behaviors in order to have a safe and happy life with their dog.
1. Decide what you want your dog to do instead of jumping up
Imagine a perfect world where your dog does what you would like them to do rather than jumping up. This can be lying down, standing with four paws on the floor, or sitting. It’s best to start with something easy in the initial stages, so I began with sitting. Natalie says, “It may be tempting to simply ignore your dog or shout ‘down’ or ‘no’ when they are jumping up. However, this is unlikely to lead to a sustainable behavior change as it doesn’t teach the dog what you would prefer them to do. As with any training area, I encourage my clients to reframe the question from ‘how do I stop’ to ‘what would I like them to do instead’ because this allows us to set out a training plan that is fun for everyone involved.”
2. Use positive reinforcement
We all know you can train your dog using treats, and while it does work and Bear does love a treat, he’s more interested in gaining attention than anything else. Use whatever works for your dog to let them know they’ve done a good job. For Bear, this meant a lot of attention, cuddles and ‘good boy’ rather than food. “Positive reinforcement is an ethical and effective way to train your dog to do pretty much anything,” says Natalie. “It involves rewarding behavior that you want to encourage with something that the dog finds pleasurable. This can be food, toys, or attention. Using this principle, you can understand why jumping up is so rewarding for dogs as often it gets them the attention they are craving.”
3. Make the floor the focus
At first there was some confusion for Bear with positive reinforcement, as he still wanted to jump up to gain my attention. He liked the attention I was giving him for being good, but he just seemed to want more of it. I decided to introduce treats at this point to help him understand what he was being fussed over for. As soon as I entered the room I dropped treats on the floor. This worked in two ways. It distracted him immediately from jumping and it also made the floor the focus, which is where I want him to stay. Natalie says, “Set up training sessions that your dog can cope with. Then positively reinforce your dog whenever they do the behavior you have chosen. It can be useful to drop the treats on the floor to encourage them to keep all four paws on the floor.”
4. Watch your timing
It can be difficult when you’re entering the house after being out and your dog is so excited they’re jumping up before you’ve even got in the door, but when you can you should reinforce the positive behavior of not jumping up before they’ve done it at all. “The key to success with training your dog not to jump up is to reward them before their feet have even left the floor,” says Natalie. “If you miss the moment, simply wait for the next one rather than asking for a sit/down after they have jumped up and then rewarding them. Otherwise, your dog will quickly learn that they need to jump up to get your attention, then sit and look sweet so that they get a treat.”
5. Help your dog understand they can’t always get what they want
While Bear is big and excitable, he does respond well to training. He wants to please, like most dogs, and if that means he can’t have something or do something, he’s ok with that after a little while. It took time, but I found that focusing his attention on me really worked. To stop him from jumping up I incorporated other areas of training, which all fed into each other. In the end, it was about helping him control his frustrations. One training exercise to help your dog learn how to hold themselves back from something they want, like food, involves throwing the item just out of reach while holding onto their lead so they can’t get to it. Natalie explains, “Get their attention and as soon as they look at you, let the lead through your hand so that they can go and collect their prize. This should help them to learn to simply look towards you and ask politely when they want something, instead of rushing towards it, barking, lunging, or jumping. You need to be careful that you don’t create too much frustration with this technique, so start with simple things to associate the training with something they enjoy playing with or eating. Working on this will set them up to succeed when you then move onto training new behaviors around people.”
For more tips, read our full feature on how to stop a dog from jumping up.
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Samantha is a freelance writer from Sheffield. She writes about pets, health, travel, and food & drink for publications like Woman & Home, The Independent, Reader’s Digest, and Lonely Planet. Samantha has been a freelance writer for 18 years and loves finding new stories and new places to write about. When she’s not writing she’s usually spending time with an excitable old English sheep dog and an even more excitable sheepadoodle! And she also loves writing about them!